Trilogies. They’re always interesting concepts; sometimes they work (Star Wars), sometimes they fail (The Hangover). Often, the success of these franchises hinges heavily on how compelling the second instalment is. It’s got to glue together the “intro” put down in the first film, but also leave it hanging at the end in order to get you to come back for the final film. See, Star Wars, although not my favourite series of films, did this well. Arguably, The Empire Strikes Back was the best of the three films as it ended on a fantastic cliff-hanger that left audiences walking out saying “What? They can’t end it like that? This is bull****!” – this is the PERFECT response that’ll sucker you back in for the ending. So, how does the middle of The Hunger Games trilogy fare…?
The Hunger Games franchise has picked up a lot of steam over time. The original Hunger Games was a success… a big success. Obviously, it fed off the fandom generated by the set of books, but it also pulled in others that hadn’t read the books (The Phage included). Although at Film Phage, we thought that The Hunger Games was essentially a new version of the Japanese classic, Battle Royale. It was fun, but it wasn’t mind-blowing. If we’re honest, we weren’t that phased by the thought of the second instalment… but we were pleasantly surprised.
Obviously, a lot has changed since the first and Catching Fire. Notably the fact that the star, Jennifer Lawrence, has seen her star rise higher and higher thanks to… you know… that little Oscar she got for Silver Linings Playbook. Now people really care about her. No more crappy roles in films like The House at the End of the Street. Hopefully…
Anyway, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up where the original left off… Katniss (Lawrence) has won The Hunger Games (a fight to the death to keep her home town alive and thriving) along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), after they faked their love so that there could be two winners. Now they must continue this premise on the orders of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But there’s something stirring… a revolution. And Katniss finds herself at the centre of it all as the unintended figurehead thanks to that damn badge of a bird she has!
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a fun ride. As I’ve attested, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original so I didn’t bother to re-watch it in preparation. The film makes no apologies for this, and doesn’t really remind you of what went on before. This can be a bit jarring as you quickly try to recall what was going on. It doesn’t provide a quick little recap like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 did… this is a shame, but I could soon piece together what happened. The film then riots along at a fair old pace. I must say that not knowing the books’ plots makes these films far more enjoyable as I don’t know what twists and turns lie ahead. This is kind of the point of films, so being a fully-fledged fan of the book may not help you.
I also hear that the book is much more graphic in its depiction of violence than this film. That’d be owing to the PG-13 / 12A rating that THG:CF has picked up. This is neglected somewhat here. It’s not an overly violent film. Sure, people get killed (in a goreless way) and there are some disgusting looking boils on people’s skin, but it’s not a shocker. This isn’t a reason to slight the film though; not in my eyes.
The strength of the film lies in the plotting. Sure, the casting is good and everyone delivers on what you’d expect, but for me the film isn’t there. As I said at the outset, the success of a second instalment rests on it being glue. And Catching Fire IS the glue in this franchise. It develops the plot an absolute ton, sucks you in, then leaves you begging for more at the eleventh hour. I heard a lot of people complaining about the ending, and that was fantastic. They weren’t complaining because the ending was bad… it wasn’t… but it sure does end on a “what the hell?” note. Yes… Han Solo is in carbonite…
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues to develop this ridiculously successful franchise. Whilst I found the first outing to be somewhat derivative, this second dose of Katniss and friends (and enemies) sated my appetite and in fact got me excited again. I’m now looking forward to 2014’s next entry: Mockingjay. Let’s hope it can keep up the pace and action. I can already see where the plot’s heading, but I’m hoping I’ll be surprised with developments…
Although saying that, my excitement is tempered somewhat by the sad fact that (Part 1) is attached to the end of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Just like Twilight and Harry Potter, Hollywood can’t help but extend a series by splitting the final book into two… Star Wars this ain’t… or maybe it is… considering we now have parts I, II, III and VII on the way. Only time will tell whether this pays off, or whether audience fatigue will have set in by the time we see The Hunger Games‘ trilogy (or quadrilogy) wrap up.
Nice review. Still stand by my original feelings: The first is still better, but only by a hair or two. This one still works its magic when possible, and never lets you forget that more is to come.